Facilitating…the art of making a task easier.

cartoon-airplaneI despise flying, but in order to accomplish my goals and responsibilities, I have no choice. Sometimes I swear that this is the last time I am going to fly, but I guess it is like childbirth.   Afterwards you forget.

Now that I have discovered the ToP Methods and Focused Conversation, my flying is much more tolerable. I used to hear voices like, “why are you here, you know you don’t like flying, you should have went to work at Walmart like your mother told you, you will never get to your destination, you should have driven, and on and on and on.”

My new self talk goes more like this!

Yes, I am on a flight that is a little bumpy.   There are lots of other people on this flight.   We are all going to the same location separately together.

The last 10 times I flew it was bumpy too.   There are not too many flights that are not bumpy.

I get nervous when the flight is bumpy. I feel helpless because I don’t know how long the pilot has been flying or if he is sleeping up there. I think every flight should be smooth with no bumps.

Instead of getting nervous about something I have no control over, I will practice my meditation techniques and slow breathing. I will try and laugh about the fact that I know there is more likelihood that someone will die of a heart attack worrying about the plane than there is getting injured during the flight. I will remember that the air is not empty and it is full of pockets of different types of air. I will remember how much worse I hate riding in a car!

You have just experienced an ORID structured conversation with myself.   Self talk that is taking it from a potential hysterical down spiral to a facilitated reasonable conversation with a direction that I can work on.

To learn how to use these conversations at work, home or alone, sign up for a Technology of Participation Facilitation Methods. You can find the classes at the  TopTraining website.   in fact, if you want to combine a class with a trip to Orlando, there is class on October 9- 10th in Orlando.

See you at the airport!

Life in 140 Characters

140-charactersLife in the fast lane. That is where we are. We don’t have conversations any more we have tweets. If you can’t communicate in less than 140 characters, no one is listening. Only the first 5 lines of emails are getting read.   Voice mails are being translated into text messages loosing all the vocal intent of the message.

We, as a society are loosing the the ability to really communicate. We are not getting deeper into matters that have meaning. We simply exist every day and do our very best to “stay in the middle”.   We work really hard at being alone while we are surrounded by what we think are thousands of e-friends.

This is all compounded by the overload factor. We are so good at collecting data that it is turning into garbage. Myself, I sometimes feel like the garbage recycler when I open my email. It is delete, recycle to someone else, forward on, or set on the counter for later action.   We want to be sure that our message is heard, so we try to compete in the message garbage stream. If one message is good, than 3 is better and it better have all of the information in the first 140 characters, because that is all that will be read.

How does all of this make you feel?

Do you feel alone while surrounded by thousands? Do you feel closer to people who you simply have asynchronous dialogs with every day via “chat”?   Do you feel sometimes that your friends and family just want you to “get to the point” so they can get to their point?

Are you gaining knowledge and understanding from this constant stream of non communications? When did you last feel that you have had a breakthrough learning moment?   Was it when you read that incredible email or had a face to face conversation in a relaxed atmosphere?

Think for a moment, when was your last ah-ha moment? Who were you talking to via what communication tool? Did you feel the conversation? Did you experience empathy and share emotions? Did you come out with a deeper understanding of the person, problem or situation?   Did new ideas come to you that would have never surfaced otherwise?

So what?

Is there a chance we can turn this around?   Will the next generation be communicating in 60 characters or less? Will we forget about the human side of life? Will we totally loose the human side of communications?

What can you do?

Turn life around. Make time for personal interactions with conversations that go deeper. Create opportunities for true conversations.   Ask questions that begin with why, how, why, or which. Avoid questions that can be simply answered with a yes or no.   Take time to explore relationships by creating dialogs around opportunities.  Embrace this with your friends, co-workers and family.

Start off your conversations by confirming all participants are actually in the same conversation. Ask simple questions that have simple answers, that begin with what. Examples might be, what are you working on, what happened in your day today, or what headlines did you see today? These are all easy questions that require more than a yes or no answer. They have no right or wrong answer, they are simply stating the facts.

After you have “grounded” the beginning you may want to ask how they feel about the situation you are discussing. How did this headline make you feel, what projects are giving you the most anguish, what projects are you looking forward to the most or what stood out for you as the highlight of your day?

Having set the foundation and gotten the emotional connections clarified, next would be to ask questions about what the real intent of the situation is. A question may be something like, Why do you think your friend did that, what changes would you recommend to the projects, what does this mean for our business or friendship, or why are you interested in this project?   These types of questions allow you to understand the implication that is felt by the situation at hand.   If you understand the situation, the feeling on the situation, and proposed implications, then you can take decisive planned actions.

To wrap up the conversation, you may ask a question like, What do you think we should do now, what should we do next, what followup will help you, what advice would you give considering the situation?

This type of conversation leads to a non threatening, understanding and deeper relationships whether it is co-workers, friends, or family.

What would happen if we all started communicating like this at work, play, and home. What would happen if the government worked this way? Would your legislators ask questions like, What is in this bill, how will it affect people, what is the real intent and what should we do next?

We can all take this opportunity to begin our own journey into deepening our conversations, our understanding and our successes in life. I challenge each of you to make the time for deeper, more fulfilling conversations that enhance our lives and learning.

If you would like to learn more about this type of “Focused Conversation”, I encourage you to seek out a Technology of Participation Facilitation Methods class.

Organizations frequently undertake a meeting for committees, strategic planning, action planning, making a decision or other reason for more than one person to work together.   So many times,  one or two people have in their mind, what the answer is before the question is asked.   They are blind to what others think,  what obstacles are in their way, and how the knowledge of the group together can be an incredible powerful solution.  Leaders need to get out of their own way to let the processes of the group knowledge work.  

A typical  “self centered”  meeting may go something like this.  

  • First, you want to tell everyone what you think should be done. 

  • Secondly, you want to tell everyone what you think about what everyone else thinks.

  • Third, you want to tell everyone about how you feel about what other people think.

  • Lastly, you decide you are upset because your way was not the chosen way or as the leader of the group, you choose the easiest path of least resistance.  


Why are we here?
A “focused facilitated conversation” would be different. It is more of a leadership method of running a meeting.  The initial step is to decide why you are all in the same room.  Post in a visible place the question that is the driving focus of the meeting.  It brings everyone together and they know why they are there.  It gives you a visual frame of reference. If the conversation gets de-railed, you have a landing spot to bring it back to the reason for the meeting.  If you don’t have a decision to make or work to be done together and it is simply a “reporting out” meeting, then  would suggest you distribute the reports electronically.  You could follow up that distribution of reports with a meeting if action needs to be taken on the information.  Otherwise, I would simply save peoples time and they will value your meetings more when you make the best use of their time.


People Like to Be Heard
We all acknowledge that most people like to talk and be heard.  Some are shy and only like to talk to one or two people at a time and will not feel comfortable talking in front of a group.  They especially not like to look ignorant in front of their peers.  A great meeting starts with sharing where everyone “is” at that moment.  Ask a question that is easily answered and allows each person to have a voice and establish credibility. Each person’s perspective of why they are there or what is going on that day is different.  Each of those perspectives have an influence on the outcome of the meeting as well as the understanding from the group of each persons point of view.   If  you are reviewing an event or document,  you might want to simply ask, “What role did you play in this project?” or ” What were some of your individual assignments?”  Each person deserves an opportunity to share their participation and  input.  By acknowledging their participation, you are validating that they are an integral part of the “team”.

What Stood Out?
An important part of the process is offering the opportunity for participants to share what was important about this project or event.  You may want to ask each person to pick out something in the report or event that they remember the most.  The relevance of what is recalled by each person is important.  All perspectives will be slightly different. Each of us is working with a different “scene” in our heads and this is an opportunity to know what is important to the others. 

Drive Change
Information is not useful unless it drives change.  What is the impact of the information your meeting is sharing?   How does the information shared affect the outcome of the committee, project or event?  You may want to ask a question such as, “How will this information we talked about today, affect our committee goals?”  or “what issues do we need to resolve to move forward?”  The group is then taking the information it has learned about,  internalizing it and picking out parts that need to be further addressed.  It saves you from reviewing every piece of data whether relevant or not.  It allows you to quickly surface issues that need to be addressed.

Take Action
Lastly, making a note of the issues brought up in the previous step,  ask the group,  what should we do next?  or what should we do with this report at this time?   These are actionable items that “close the loop”.  You have shared information, personalized it for each person,  gotten feedback and reflection and now as a group you are deciding, what next?

Participatory planning like this is the basis of the Technology of Participation (Top) Methods of Facilitation. The methods can be used in person or virtually.  If your organization would benefit from a meeting using a facilitator, look for a ToP trained facilitator.  If you want to learn more about how to use these methods within your own organization,  attend a ToP training event.  

You can find more information on ToP training at www.top-training.net.

Laurie Dougherty, CAE
ToP Trained Facilitator

To those who have never been in a well run  (facilitated meeting), the word facilitator has about the same meaning as meeting coordinator, meeting manager or even representative of the person in charge.   I used to think that too.  After many years, my interpretation of facilitator then moved to simply an independent person who kept the meeting on track.  I used to think that too!  

Now I understand that a great facilitator is one that has a comprehensive understanding of the intent of the meeting, works with the meeting owner to design a meeting that fills the needs of the group and yet insures that all voices are heard.   It is no longer simply a meeting “manager” or a cookie cutter strategic planner.   Each group is different and they need to be engaged in designing the outcome so that there is 100% support of the results.

I laugh sometimes when I google the word facilitator.  It can mean someone who provides intake services for inmates, intake for patients at a hospital, supervisor in a manufacturing facility, or teacher.   My hope is that everyone at sometime in their life, gets to experience the energy, and outcome potential that can be achieved using a dynamic, skilled and intuitive facilitator.

What does “facilitator” mean to you? 

If you have never been to a Toastmasters meeting, I encourage you to find the nearest one. As a facilitator, you need to be able to communicate in a fashion that people enjoy listening to and are clearly understood. In addition to improving your own speaking and listening skills, you will find many great gems in the talks that you will hear others present. Here is one that struck home with me recently.

Facilitating and Improv
What do they have to do with each other? Isn’t improv really just “stand up comedy?” That is what I thought too until I heard the recent talk on Improv and meetings. When you engage in improv you respond ‘unscripted” to whatever situation you find yourself in. It is “being in the moment” with a clear mind and able to respond to “the moment”. The presenter at this meeting offered the following tips.

BE NOW – Be present in the moment. Don’t be thinking about what happened yesterday or what you are going to say as a response to the person talking. Listen.
SAY YES – Be open to new ideas. Don’t ever say, we tried that and it didn’t work.
SAY YES AND ! – Not only say yes, but contribute to the new idea and add to what was previous said.
NO – Throw away your fears. Don’t worry about failure.
NO – Don’t be afraid of mistakes. Trust your meeting partners.
BE ONE – Be one with the group. Stay with them and the thoughts that are being shared. Listen and respond to what is going on that moment.

I really wish I could have recorded this person’s talk as she was incredible at delivering it and I was hanging on every word. I was with her at every moment.

Facilitator Podcasts

As a facilitator, I am always seeking out new tools and techniques. Today I listened to my first podcast of Meeting Tips Radio. The most recent broadcast is Sheila Cooke. Sheila is an awesome trainer and facilitator and I was fortunate enough to be a part of her virtual facilitation classes. It is difficult to find “audio” training and reference materials on facilitation, both in person and virtual. I highly recommend these facilitator podcasts. Listen on your own to Sheila’s tips.

Only one technology at a time?

Are we are getting in a rut already? So many meetings are on either gotomeeting, conference call, skype or other collaboration tool. But, have you ever had a meeting that engaged two or more tools at the same time? Each of them are good for a specific purpose. Why limit yourself to one at a time. Should you have an online meeting via gotowebinar and then break into tweet chats? Or meet via conference call and then offline in a group forum to followup the discussion. Or even possibly do a tweet chat during an in-person meeting?

We look at meetings as one dimensional and seem to do sometimes what is easiest for the facilitator and not necessarily the best choice for the group. We need to consider the desired outcome and design the process to achieve it.

Today, I facilitated an virtual sharing session demonstrating how to graphically facilitate from an IPAD.  If you think there are technology challenges associated with a regular presenter,  try complicating it with an IPAD projecting on to the presenters laptop.   As a good facilitator should, we did a technology dry run.   It worked just fine.   We know that doesn’t guarantee it will work fine the next time.  Especially when there is any change whatsoever with the equipment, or the internet connection.   That was our challenge today.  We moved from a practice run in Paris to a live demo in Chicago with a borrowed ipad.  All in all it was well worth the time and our presenter, Roberta was fabulous.

Here are some of the highlights that I noted from our presentation today:

  • 5 colors plus black is usually enough
  • Suggested stylus for the ipad is a WACOM Bamboo selling on Amazon for about $16.95
  • The new version of Brushes for IPAD is not as good for graphic recording as the older version
  • The new Sketchbook Pro for the IPAD costs about $5.00 and has all of the tools you need including layers.
  • If you want to cut and paste items or graphics, try the software Scanscribe  It will allow you to do that but has other limited capabilities.
  • 3 different textures are enough for graphic facilitating
  • Be sure and use layers – the optimum number of layers is 3
  • When you project your graphic facilitation on a screen, there is a wide variance of success depending on the screen resolution and the lighting in the room
  • You can do separate drawings and then “stitch” them together in Photoshop

This industry of graphic facilitation has the most generous people that I have encountered.  They are very willing to share their ideas and tips.   I can’t wait now to try out the new things I learned today.  Maybe I’ll “graphically represent” the ideas and post my artwork!

Here is a link to the recorded virtual graphic facilitation learning exchange.

If you are interested in presenting your graphic facilitation tips, skills or software demonstration, email  info@virtualfacilitator.us

Objective –  The objective of this event was to gather people for a focused conversations to confirm assumed conclusions.  A large committee had been working on future plans for this association and had developed several assumptions.   An event was planned specifically to invite participants to provide their opinions on questions.   The participants that would be answering the questions range from having no previous knowledge of this committee’s plans to being intimately familiar with the plans and process.

The room was set up in tables of 8-10 people per table.  Attendee list was sorted and assigned to tables to force participants that have arrived together from the same state to not sit at the same table.  Facilitators in charge of each “project” were at assigned tables.  One facilitator lead per table.

After the group had completed their meal, dishes were cleared away and the overview of the event was described.   The facilitators at each table had 15 minutes to conduct a focused conversation on their particular topic. The questions had been reviewed to not be “leading” questions and as open ended as possible.  The intent was that the results of the questions  would confirm or deny assumptions.

After 15 minutes, time was called and the facilitators from each table, moved one table to their right.  They were then able to start anew with another set of participants.  The participants had name badges on and an indication of what state they were from.  This additional information gave some insight to the individual table facilitators as to the background of the discussion from the participants.  It became apparent to them that larger states had different outlooks than smaller states.   It was also apparent to them that a large percent of their assumptions were not true.  Additionally, discussion from the group resulted in the fact that there was a great need for better communications all around and that basic knowledge that was assumed, was not understood.

The recap of this event was that it was very worthwhile and the insights gained by this committee will save them time, energy and instilled in them the importance for communications as well as a “predicted” response to the end results of their efforts.

Objective –  This group wanted to come together to brainstorm on how to improve their tradeshows at their respective associations.   The sizes of the associations and events ranged greatly from very small of 50 booths to large of 400 booths.   The challenge was to come up with useful information that the group felt a part of creating.  We had one hour to brainstorm, categorize, and summarize our thoughts.   There were approximately 25 participants in this meeting.

Setting the stage we shared stories of what experiences we have had of a successful trade show events.  These can be ones that we were responsible for producing or ones that we attended.  The participants shared ideas of what they had remembered from a good experience.

Next we talked about how it felt to be a part of that experience from a participants point of view as well as from the organizers’ point of view.   Participants talked about the feeling that they had when it went well and the feedback from others when it goes well.   The group discussed what surprised them about this part of their event.

Taking these positive events, we shared stories about what these types of events did for the organizations.  Did it bring people closer together, create a sense of “family” or what was the result of these activities.    In addition we discussed what would have they done differently knowing what they now know.

After setting the tone, and getting everyone to feel comfortable in sharing, each person was instructed to write out 4  – 5 ideas on large 5″ x 9″ cards,  that they thought would contribute to a successful tradeshow.   The group was directed to express their ideas in 3-5 words.

After 5 minutes we formed groups of 3 – 4 people.  Each group had to negotiate and select the top 3 ideas and pass them forward to the facilitator.  We discussed each idea very briefly before placing them on the sticky wall.   When the top 3 ideas from each group were on the wall, we asked for one representative from each team to come up and to sort them into similar groups.     They were able to move any of the cards around at any time.   After grouping the ideas, we asked for their next best 2-3 cards per group and as we talked about them, we placed them with their groups.  The participants agreed on the placement and clarity of the ideas.

After asking if there were any unique ideas not represented on the board,  we named the groups of ideas.  Categories were assigned such as communication, layout, activities, and fun.   it was apparent that the “fun” category had the most items under it.

We again reviewed the ideas represented and asked for any thing that may be missing.   A few more ideas were contributed and the cards were placed with the appropriate groups.   Lastly the group reflected on if they had any ideas of things that they would like to try out right away at their event.  We discussed what the best use of this information is and what we should do next with it.  The group decided we wanted to capture these items in a shared website and refine them annually for future use. They want to take 2-3 items and make them into more detail as in a “how-to’ manual for that type of event.

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